Tone Brothers, Inc. is the country's oldest spice company, as well as its second largest, behind industry leader McCormick & Company, Inc. Still based near Des Moines, Iowa, where it was established in 1873, Tone is noted for being the first company west of the Mississippi to sell roasted coffee (in the 1880s), and for introducing clear plastic, hermetically sealed packages with flip-top lids for spices (in the 1980s). ...
.....A Pioneering Company in the Nineteenth Century
In 1873 Jehiel Tone, who was born in New York and had worked for a coffee and spice company in Michigan, convinced his brother I.E. Tone to head west with him and start their own business. The brothers came to Des Moines, Iowa, which had just become the state capital, and chose it as the home of Tone Brothers, Inc. At first, the company sold only coffee and spices, and the original staff consisted of Jehiel Tone, I.E. Tone, Aunt Mary, and "Mother." For the next century Tone would continue as a family business, even as it greatly expanded in size.
Within its first 25 years, Tone had set up a sales force that marketed coffee, tea, and spices. It had become the first company west of the Mississippi to sell roasted coffee, which before that time had consisted of whole green beans that were roasted over wood stoves at home. (The notion of selling ground roasted coffee beans came years later.) And it had become the first company in the United States to sell pure ground pepper, as opposed to the widely used blend that contained ground olive stones and lamp black for added color. Tone's also introduced the concept of individual packages for spices, and began to sell them in orange-and-black boxes.
The New Century Brings New Ideas
In the late 1890s, I.E. Tone's son, Jay E. Tone, Sr., graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a chemical engineer. He brought this knowledge to the family business, and soon the company was selling extracts as well as coffee, tea, and spices. Lemon extract was the most popular of Tone's extracts. The company, still based in Des Moines, began to sell its products in other Midwestern states.
By the 1930s Tone's was importing coffee, tea, and raw spices from several countries. Jay Tone, Sr. became company president in 1939, and soon afterward he and his brother Fred introduced a new product: "pressure packed" ground coffee in cans, which eliminated the common problem of coffee spoilage. Jay Tone, Sr. remained president of Tone for 30 years and continued to work in his office regularly until the age of 96. In 1969, soon after his son, Jay Tone, Jr., assumed the presidency, the company's family ownership came to an end, when it was sold to Mid-Continent Bottlers, another Des Moines company. Jay Tone, Sr. died four years later, at the age of 100. He had been born the same year that Tone's was established, and lived to see its entire first century.